Interview with My Grandfather about Working on the Apollo Space Missions

`This is an interview with my maternal grandfather. He worked on the Apollo and Skylab space missions. The interview:

  1. What computer did you use when you worked for IBM?
    We worked on several computers. IBM built the computers that actually flew on the Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle spacecraft and controlled the spacecraft. Most of the early spacecraft computers were referred to as the Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC). We did much of our Apollo software testing on a large IBM System 360/44 Computer. When I first started, we did our software testing by observing 1’s and 0’s on the panel on the front of the System 360/44 Computer. These corresponded to the actual computer programming binary code used to fly the spacecraft.
  2. What was your favorite part about the job?
    My favorite part of the job was working on a program that was of high national interest. The space launches were televised on national television and ongoing coverage was provided. Also, it was a real honor and major challenge being responsible for major software and testing components of the program that assured the safety of the astronauts, as well as achieving the mission results. As Manager of Software Development for space programs, I had the responsibility to ensure my team made no errors in their programming of the space computers. If there were errors, it could result in a disaster, including the death of the astronauts, many of which were neighbors and friends.


  3. What flights did you work on?
    Apollo 11 – 17, All 4 Skylab Flights (SL-1, SL-2, SL-3, SL-4) and most of Space Shuttle Flights (STS-1 – STS-9, STS 41-B – STS 41-G, STS 51-A – STS 51G)
  4. Where did you work?
    I started my space work with IBM in Huntsville, Alabama – where I worked from 1969 – 1973. I then transferred to Houston, TX, where I completed my space work around 1985. I then moved on to other jobs within IBM.
  5. Did you work on Apollo 13?
    Yes, I did – I was a programmer for software that helped provide Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GN&C) and Redundancy Management for Apollo 13. GN&C software was actually used to fly the space vehicle. Redundancy Management was used to provide computer backup in case any of the 5 redundant computers failed.


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Apollo 13 capsule


  1. How many Apollo missions did you work on?
    7 Apollo missions – Apollo 11 – 17
  2. What was the last flight you worked on and what year was it?
    Space Shuttle Flight STS 51-D in 1985.
  3. Why did NASA have this job open?
    During the space program, they were many opportunities for engineering and science majors. In addition to Computer Science majors, many math majors, as I was, were offered computer programming positions in the space program by NASA.
  4. What made you want to apply to this job? 


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IBM logo 1972


When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the space program. When I was given an opportunity to take a job in the space program, especially as a computer programmer, it was a very easy decision.

     10. How much training did it take you to be ready for the job?

The training was never complete. A very solid technical education was required to be initially prepared to perform successfully in the space program. To ensure that the space missions would always be completely successful, we had to continually apply lessons learned from the experiences of thousands who were involved in the space program. In addition, we had to continually update our technology and related knowledge to address the increasing space program challenges. Our attitude was that we needed to be “perfect” in our job performance and continually train ourselves appropriately. We absolutely could not afford to make mistakes in our work.

That was an interesting interview. He must have loved that job. I wish I could be there and see all that equipment.

Overall view of the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, during the Apollo 9 mission.
Ground control